Disclaimers: Does it matter anymore who they really belong to? They belong to the World now and forever. If I have to; USA Pictures, Pacific Renaissance hold the rights.
Sex and Violence: Yes there is consenting love between two people of the same sex and no violence to speak of. If the Sex issue is unlawful where you are from or you are underage, please go and find General stated fanfiction.
This is the sequel to Xena Harps Gabrielle of Flowers, and no, the painting is still not finished, even though the series is. It is not necessary that "Flowers" be read first, but Return to Eire would be more understandable if it was.
Any comments are appreciated and can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Return to Eire
By Betty E. Bradley
After many years of traveling the Known Cosmos the duo finally decided to return to the island in the north and west to relive their time spent there near their beginning.
When Gabrielle had searched and read through most of the well known and also some of the lesser-known libraries where they had lived and moved through those lands, she found some interesting data. She copied it down for further reading and future reference.
The renown bard she had become was entranced with this historical knowledge of their past.
"Hey Xena! Come here. I want to read something to you. It's something I found shuffling through all those dusty scrolls. You might find this interesting." She was sitting on a fallen tree trunk.
The Warrior walked over to the bard and dropped cross-legged to the ground. She looked up at Gabrielle expectantly, as she sat beside her on a log.
"All right Gabrielle. What have you found so intriguing? Go on read it to me, while I get comfortable here." Xena leans back against a fallen tree trunk, then reaches out and snags a skin from their bedroll, rolls it up and fits it on the horizontal tree at her back.
Snuggling back into the soft skin, "Is this a long one?" she asks of her partner.
"No, not really Xena. But I think if you'll just listen, maybe it'll be of some importance to you."
"Okay, carry on.", settling back into the furs.
Gabrielle unfurled the parchment she had written the account on, smiled down at Xena and began
" It seems that there were some vast and not-so-vast migrations around the Earth in its earlier periods of development,"she began. Although all of these movements were intriguing to the bard inside of her, Gabrielle found that the Celtic peoples' migrations hit quite close to home. "For it seems that stories were told, and some even written down about the people who came originally from the Middle East, the Heart of the Beginnings, looking for better places and more room to live The people filed out of the Basin of Civilization like streams of ants. Moving in all directions they even came through Greece as they moved onwards to the Great Mountains in the North. The people seemed to intermarry at times with the tribes whose lands they passed through. But they kept their identity. They picked up some of their ideas on crafts and fighting from others established in areas they passed through. They were a strong people and they overpowered and conquered. The fierce warrior society developed ironworking and smelting among their many skills and was able to become mobile so surplus populations began to move with impunity in many directions. They were exceptional at road building, before the Romans. This took many generations for them to travel over the countryside and reach the highlands. They merged and emerged. This one tribe lived on the sides of the great heights digging into them finding salt that they traded with the other surrounding clans and tribes. They made vast mines to dig out the precious condiment of necessity and life. They also created beautiful jewelry and other magical ornaments of metal and colorful enamel, of which they became famous. These people were called Keltoi after the weapon they used the most frequently - a kelt or club. They were also well-versed in the use of swords, spears, axes and billhooks that they had created.
After many generations, being shoved out again for space, some moved on after years of living there happily to the north and also west to a land warmed by the sun and edged by a great sea. Some hired out as mercenaries to armies, while others returned to close of their place of origin - Gallacia. Those that went west fought to gain ahold of this sunswept place, always defeating and displacing a folk already established, then living somewhat peacefully with those that remained. The Celts were a strong people well-versed in warfare. In Iberia they spread out and became farmers, tilling the land for its wealth and learning the ways of animal husbandry- mainly cattle. Once the objects of ownership had been obtained - cattle- it seems some were never happy. They always wanted more than their neighbor. So they raided each other and stole their cows. Some thought of this as a game and to show whom was the strongest. Battle was always eminent in these excursions and some died. They had already learned about horses from neighboring clans they had traded with many generations ago in the high country. Still, even though they were a fierce people, the jewelry evolved into more beautiful items and different from other peoples' crafts, being more refined and delicate. They had a gift for working with metal, be it weapons or beautiful armament to decorate themselves with. They were ahead of most of the other different tribes they came in contact with in their ideas and talents. The stories of the generations and exploits of these different tribes were kept by bards to be passed on and told to the folk about their ancestors and where they had come from.
Again the idea and need for more room and land pervaded and several brothers of the main tribe decided to strike out with their families and belongings to find a new place. They built ships, because they were close to the coast of a great water, and loaded everything they owned inside them. The tribe had learned the shipwright trade from a few people of a sailing and trading tribe from the eastern reaches of the Middle Sea that had been shipwrecked and lived with them for a time. This was the first time the people had traveled as a main on water. They sailed close to the shore going forever north, coming ashore at night and for the replenishing of fresh water and food. Finally after a lengthy time and troubles, they came to a green land full of much promise. As the ships of two of the brothers, leaders, sons of Milesia, drew close to the shore, one cut off his left hand and threw it to the sand, so he would be the first to reach land and therefore be the first to choose of the land there. This gory member became a symbol in this new land. (The Red Hand of Ulster - the Red Branch, etc. /author's note)
But in this new evergreen land, as before, they had found a people already living there. And those were not the first to come to this land. Many other people or tribes and clans had inhabited this land, through the ages, the first died out from a sickness and the others were conquered by sequential invading tribes. And all of these different people came originally from areas around the Great Sea. The Fir Bog, Formorians and DeDannans were tribes in succession to each other, until the Milesians came. All had disappeared either from death or intermarriage. Their identity had been lost. All but the DeDannans. They seemed to melt into the ground after they had been conquered by large battles. Mainly the Champions of each tribe fought each other. When the best of the DeDannans had been defeated they acquiesced.
The brother of the leaders of the Milesians was a much renowned bard. He witnessed all of the events and kept track of all of the tribes' stories and histories to be passed on to the next generation. The Milesians prospered in this new land, their numbers and cattle grew. And their art flourished. After tens of thousands of years, they traveled no more."
After Gabrielle read this to her Xena shook her head and let out a long "Wheeeewwww." She took a breath and said, "Let's go back! I know you would love to see that land again. And I don't think I'd mind it a bit."
The bard replied,"You really think we could? You know, Xena, we have been everywhere, but that place, Eire, is so special. I think it's been nagging in the back of my mind for so long and pulling at my heart. It's so different from all these other lands we've been to. I never ask you to go to any one place Xena, but let's return to that green place, Eire." She leaned against the warrior, wrapping her arm around Xena's shoulder and laying her head against the dark haired woman. She kissed the dark head, nuzzling in the fragrant hair. Xena had raised her left arm so their hands met, they clasped them and squeezed the other comfortably as was an old habit. Gabrielle was excited.
"It's a magical place, Gabrielle. It's extremely important to me too, because I found you there." Xena leaned into the contact wrapping her right arm around the inner thigh of the bard and softly caressing the soft skin there. "It won't be easy to get there, but we'll find a way, I promise." She kissed the leg lightly she was holding.
"Yeah, well maybe I'll find a flower-cousin." Gabrielle said with a giggle, kissing Xena's head again.
"Yeah, maybe" Xena smiled with a chuckle and a wink.
So they plotted their way of travel to that "special" place, which they both longed to see
again. The where, how and when to get them there. The why was already known.
Somehow something or someone always kept them from leaving right away, problems to fix, warlords to depose, folks to save, that sort of thing. But Xena and Gabrielle finally started moving towards their goal. Travelling ever westward similar to the migrating ancestors whose trail they followed, without knowing so, they finally, after a great length of time, reached the edge of the land as the world knew it and faced the Great Sea. This was not so daunting as they had been to Chin, India and the lands in the great frozen north. But this journey was specifically over large landmasses and mountain ranges.
Slowly, ever slowly they eventually made progress towards their goal. Moving ever towards the setting sun they finally reached the end of the Iberian Peninsula that stretched northward into the Great Sea.
"You know Gabrielle," Xena drawled as they stood looking out over the vast expanse of water," there is a legend also of a land that has sunk in the water and disappeared long ago but it was way past the Pillars of Hercules south of where we now are. It's in the middle of this Great Sea." Xena was trying to get Gabrielle interested in many other historic things as well. 'She was like a dog with a bone, not giving up until her ideas had been reached, but then again,' she thought, 'that's me too.'
Gabrielle turned in her arms and looked up at the dark warrior.
"Well after we go to Eire maybe we can try and find that place Xena." Gabrielle wasn't taking quickly to the bait.
"Hmmm, but I vaguely remember something someone wrote about a place called A- ah- something-or-other. Is this the land you're speaking of?" the blonde inquired.
"Yeah, just heard they had a lot of new and exciting weapons and things before they went under." Xena replied. "It was populated by some of our people a long time before these other migrations began Gabrielle."
"How do you know all of this? Did you find a scroll that has their history? Who told you about all of this?"
"Actually while you were looking up the migration histories in all of those libraries, I just inquired about this place I had heard a little of and did some research too. But most people have forgotten those legends, I had to do a little digging in those dusty libraries as well. "The warrior continued, "They had some new kinds of weapons, and drawings of some of them, but they were a peaceful.folk. THAT I want to learn about. How they were able to keep friendly and trading with everyone, creating no wars or strife. But able to defend themselves as well."
"That sounds wonderful Xena. I wonder how they were able to accomplish that?"
"Dunno, maybe we'll find out their secret on our travels?"
"What was the name of this place? I seem to remember a little something Homer, that's who it was, had written, but can't quite recall all of the particulars" Gabrielle inquired of the brunette.
"It was called Atlantis" Xena answered quickly.
"Why did the land sink into the water?"
"I didn't really find out. Maybe we will if we look closely for it."
"Oooh, that sounds so interesting" the bard sighed.
"I betcha it was" Xena replied with a faraway look taking hold in her light blue eyes.
They inquired about sea-travel to head north, following the coastline and were pleased to secure passage on a trading vessel rather quickly. Matter of fact, the captain was from the mystical isle they were traveling to. His father had been a captain as well, but his mother was from this hot baked land. He was very pleasant and jovial and was good company for the two, adding to Gabrielle's continuing list of stories she had secured away.
His name was Captain Corwyn Antonius O'Brallaghan. But his crew called him Cap'n Cor. The sea captain was striking. He had dark red hair and beard with bright blue eyes that twinkled constantly. Cor's hair was shoulder length, pulled back into one braid. His beard had two small braids on either side of his mouth over a full medium length of hair. There was a small amber bead on a ring in his left ear. He was about Xena's age and height with not an ounce of spare flesh on his body and he walked with the normal sailor's gait or roll. He had blue markings on his large upper arms that seemed to be animals in twisting and biting embraces, but never catching the one before it. His clothes were a mixture of all the ports his ship has seen, from the embroidered Gaelic tunic to the Turkish trousers and a vest of a long curly cream fur. He wore a wide leather belt with Grecian metal work affixed. His footwear were boots of an interesting variety, tall leather with geometric designs above the turned-up toes. He only carried weapons when there was a need. But a curved short knife was always stuck in his belt. His crew followed him faithfully and they had a very "tight" ship. Cor's ship, this time, carried spices and wines and fabrics from the eastern ports of the Middle Sea to the land in the north. There he would trade and sell his cargo for items to bring back to the southern reaches. His two passengers were not unusual cargo, but rarely had he found such beautiful and interesting ones to travel on his ship.
"How much longer do you think before we get to Eire, Cap'n?" Gabrielle asked one evening about five days into their journey.
"Maybe another fortnight, depends on the weather. Iffen hit turns bad, we may have to put oon to land for a spell to sit it hout," Cor replied.
Xena asked, "Do those clouds spell much trouble for us, or they seem to you to be moving off in another direction?"referring to a dark bank of clouds on the horizon.
"They'll be worth keepin an eye out oon 'em, no doubt to hit" he replied with a wink and a grin. The clouds did turn out to sea and left them alone.
Gabrielle didn't seem to be suffering from seasickness as badly during this trip. The pressure point Xena had taught her relieved most of her stress. Although her wrist was getting a bit bruised from the constant grip. The more they stayed on the deck the less it seemed to affect her, so on the rare nights they were following the current, instead of anchored near shore, they slept on topside. Which was fine with the two of them. The nights were still warm in this climate. They had made their own private nest between large coils of rope and extra sails, which was quite comfortable. The two stargazed long into the nights arguing about what each shape they could see in the formations of the celestial bodies were. Sometimes Cor joined them for antimated discussions about the stars, but tonight they were alone. Gabrielle sat between Xena's long legs and leaned back against her chest. Their heads leaned against each other. The warrior circled her right arm around the bard's waist, lavishly tendering attention to the bare skin on which it rested. While caressing Gabrielle's midriff she scratched the bard's skin with her little fingernail lightly, over and over. Not only did it send tingles to the bard's center, but also it soothed her. Xena's left arm draped across Gabrielle's thigh and her hand caressed the soft inner skin she found there. The warrior pushed the blonde's skirt up gently as she slowly slid her hand down the inside of the bard's leg until it came to rest on the crease of the muscular leg. Gabrielle covered each of Xena's hands with her own, interlacing their fingers. The bard almost purred she was so contented. The warrior's hand could feel the heat emanating from the blonde's body, but she was content to just sit and hold Gabrielle in this manner.
Very sleepily Gabrielle noted, "Sometime I want so much to hold you like this Xena before we drift off."
"Anytime, my Heart," Xena softly replied in her ear. To herself she thought, 'but your arms aren't long enough to hold me like this but you never know with this clever little bard '
'But I'm so glad that I fit so well in your arms Xena,' Gabrielle thought to herself, 'and against your body. I hope it never ends.'
The blonde fell asleep in the comforting embrace that was her "home." And Xena kissed the light head lovingly before she too succumbed to the realms of Morpheus.
The few times they put into ports along the seaside, Xena and Gabrielle would walk among the market places, bartering for things of interest and would wind up at a tavern for a hot meal and something to drink. Xena never left her weapons on board during these excursions, as she never knew what would befall them or when they would have to defend themselves. In essence they really never had to use them. Xena's dark menacing appearance was enough to sway any roughneck from approaching them with mischief in his mind.
Finally they had reached the end of the land edge they were following and headed into the open sea. Always aiming north, the duo bundled into their cloaks, combating the gale-force winds as the seas got rougher. Gabrielle quickly grasped her wrist to control her sickness and they sailed without much trouble through the choppy water. Since the wind was at their back and into the sails they made very good time, stopping at the southern edge of Britannia to take on more fresh water and supplies before heading further north along the western edge of that island to Eire. They finally reached their destination of the mouth of the rivers Pottle and Liffey and pulled into the small but bustling port of Baile Atha Cliath. This was the same place they had departed from, those many years ago, to head back to Xena's homeland. Around the harbor it was called Dun Laoghaire. But now a much larger town had grown up around the whole little village. And the natives called it Duibvlin. Comparing this town to Athens, Rome, Cornith or Thebes, this town was small.
Gabrielle hugged Cor and bade farewell to many of the crew. Xena clasped the captain's forearm and smiled grandly. The three had become fast friends on the voyage, telling each of his or her life in small pieces like friends do.
"I hope we will be able to travel with you again," Xena said to the popular captain. "It has been a pleasure to sail on board your ship. I will look for you and your ship when we want to travel back south and home. All the way home, past the Pillars. To Greece, if you're going that far."
"Aye, Ill look for ye two. Ye'll be fine travelin' companions. And next trip we'll be sailing as far east as Troy", he said in return.
"I'll be a staying here for a time, though, to visit with me family. I hope ye will come and meet with 'em", he said with a broad grin. "Tomorrow, I'd be pleased if ye two will be a coming to me house for dinner."
"That would be fun to meet your family and we'd love to", bubbled Gabrielle.
At that they stepped down the gangplank and onto the mystical land of the green isle.
Looking about them, Gabrielle stopped and inhaled greatly. Several times. She smiled and threw her arms out and twirled around many times.
"I'm home! I'm home! Oh it feels so great Xena!" Gabrielle sang as she circled about with her arms wrapped around herself.
"Yep! This is where it all began well, not really in THIS spot Gabrielle, but we'll find the valley and nemeton where I found you." She continued, "Listen Gabrielle. Do you hear that? The music! The air is thick with it!"
"Xena, so many sounds are wafting in the air. It's beautiful! Is it like that everywhere? I've forgotten. We've been gone so long."
"Yes Gabrielle, but there are places where it is stronger and different. We're still in a town and on the docks. You'll remember and you'll lose yourself in it, like I did so many years ago. Out of the music came you you were my salvation." She stopped and held the bard at arms length, her heart expanding, "Can you imagine how much I love you?"
"I remember" Gabrielle murmured in thought with a faraway look in her eyes. Then looked up into Xena's pale blue eyes, "No imagining, just know how much I love and adore you. I couldn't go on without you." Her heart grew and expanded as well.
Xena hugged her close. Gabrielle's stomach chose that time to make music of its own.
"Come on. Let's go find something to satisfy that growling beast inside you."
And they strode off into the town to find an inn with food to replenish the fare they had suffered for the month of sea travel.
" No fish! Definitely no more of that for a while", groused Gabrielle while walking shoulder to shoulder with her partner.
Looking down at her adored soulmate Xena whispered "Anything for you, Gabrielle."
They luckily found an inn on the outskirts of the village and paid for a room, bath and meals. They would spend the next evening with Captain Cor and his family and then be on their way travelling to where Xena could remember she had "found" her Gabrielle.
The room was nice, not overly large, but they really didn't need a large space, just a comfortable bed and hopefully a tub for a bath. The ground stilled rolled under them and it took a while for it to stabilize.
"You'll get your land legs soon Gabrielle", Xena chortled as the bard knocked into first one wall then another.
"Very funny, Xena. You're not perfect at this yet either."
"No, but I think I don't stagger around like a drunk centaur like you're doing", she laughed again.
They both burst into waves of giggles and could barely stop when the hot water was delivered to their room.
"Do you want to go first?" Xena asked.
"Naw, lets bathe together, like always. I'll wash your back, you'll wash mine."
"The tub's not that big Gabrielle."
"Sure it is. We've used smaller" she answered with a smirk.
"Well, lets not waste any of that hot water then."
They both undressed as quickly as they ever had and jumped into the small space.
"You sit in front of me and I'll do the honors on your backside."
"Awright" the blond answered folding down into the hot liquid, "don't forget any places. This is sooo nice and restful"
"Now would I forget anyplace on you?" the dark haired warrior murmured.
Xena soaped up the back and shoulders of the bard, down the arms and the back of the legs, as Gabrielle had risen to her knees in front of the warrior. She also made sure not to forget any "places" being sure to clean thoroughly the beautiful bottom and between her legs to the front. She soaped every square inch of Gabrielle's lucious skin lingering on her breasts and her unusual navel and rock hard belly.
"Sit down now, and rinse, let me do your hair. Then you can do me."
After soaping the blond head the brunette lifted her hands with handfuls water to rinse the fine hair.
"Lean back against me, so I can get all of the soap out."
Gabrielle did lead back against Xena's chest, feeling the hard nipples at her back, but she had slipped a bit too far away from the body behind her. Xena quickly pushed her under the water, clearing the last of the soap from her head,
Gabrielle came up sputtering. "Why'd you do that? That was mean, if you'd have said something I would have been prepared. Now I have soap in my mouth and I felt like I was drowning!"
Xena snickered with a crooked grin on her face.
"Sorry Gabrielle. That just seemed the quickest way to clean the suds all out. You were about to fall asleep on me anyhow."
"I was not."
"You were too."
Both broke into giggles and Gabrielle turned around and motioned for Xena to do the same. When they had reversed their positions, Gabrielle's hands snuck in front of the warrior and splashed water in her face. She was fully awake now.
"I am so gonna get you."
"Just relax and let me clean you up," the blonde retaliated as she leaned in to kiss the broad back of the woman in front of her.
She repeated the process on the larger body that had been done for her, taking great liberties with her beloved's "places". And enjoying every minute of the intimacies with the soap.
Finally after cleansing and rinsing Xena's dark hair all fun was put aside as the water had grown quite cool, so both rose up from the tub and grabbed cloths to towel off with. Stepping gingerly from the wooden bath they began to dry each other off before a knock was heard at the door.
"Who is it?" Gabrielle sung out.
"Yer meal ma'am" was the reply.
Xena sprinted to the door with the cloth barely covering her and opened the wooden slab with a flourish.
"Bring it in and put it over there" motioning to the small table in the corner of the room.
The smells were enticing. The bard's eyes opened with much happiness over the abundance on the tray. She literally followed her nose floating above the floor to the table.
"You ladies enjoy yur bath?" the lad asked.
"It was wonderful" the bard replied staring at the food. "Thank you."
"If'n ye need anathin else call fer me, I'll be Owen," he smiled at the two and turned to leave.
They had forgotten they were standing in front of the lad unclothed.
After he closed the door, the blonde winced.
"Xena, I can't believe we did that! Here we are standing in the all-together in front of that young boy!"
"Aw Gabrielle, he wasn't that young! And besides people here are used to seeing other folks in their bare skin. They have bathing and heating huts in nearly all of the villages here in Eire. He didn't turn red like you are."
Gabrielle mumbled under her breath, ' I was warm from the water that's all.'
Xena's keen sense of hearing caught it all and mumbled back, 'Yeah, right.'
Gabrielle got over her embarrassment and dove into the food piled high on the platter. She didn't bother to even dress.
Xena watched in knowing amusement at how the small blonde bard could put away so much food and never gain an ounce.
"Hey, save some for me," she chortled. 'You know there's something decadent about sitting naked eating a meal,' she thought to herself. 'Yeah, go for it!'
After they had completely cleared the tray of everything edible, they both groaned and looked at the bed with longing. Gabrielle yawned, then Xena, then Gabrielle stretched and yawned again.
"This will be the first real bed we've had for a while Gabrielle. Let's really utilize it!"
Being stuffed from their recent feast they waddled their way to the sleeping platform and with half closed eyes pulled back the covers and snuggled in, finding the positions that they had grown so familiar with through the years. Xena on her back, holding the bard in her arms with her head tucked under the warrior's chin. Gabrielle's arm was wrapped around Xena's waist. They didn't move all night. The night music lulled them into its comforting arms with its lullabies and they slept the sleep of death.
Gabrielle had rolled to her side sometime in the early morning hours, and Xena had curled her body completely around her warming the bard's legs with her thighs and her back with her breasts. Xena had her arm draped across the small body at the waist pulling her close for the contact to run up the entire expanse of their bodies. Her hand naturally took its place comfortably in the warm nest between the bard's breasts, cupping one.
The late morning woke the pair with the song of many birds in a tree right outside their open window. It almost sounded like they had spent their night in the woods, except they were so rested from their night in the soft bed.
"Hey sleepyhead! Ready to meet the first day back in your birthland?" She kissed the bard's temple.
"Mmmmm Xena, just a little more, hmpf hmmm please?"
"Oh I think it's really time we both 'Rise and Shine' Gabrielle. Come on rise and shine!"
" Hmpf! Well, I'll rise but I won't shine!"
It's the same old verse every morning Xena thought. Nothing changes.
They finally got out of the warm soft bed. Xena hopped up with much vigor while Gabrielle drug herself out moaning and groaning.
"I was having such a nice dream! Why'd you make me get up now?"
"We've got places to go and people to see, Gabrielle. Don't you want some breakfast?"
"Hmmm, breakfast? Where? What are we gonna have?"
"Get on up and get dressed and you'll find out."
"All right, all right, I'm moving!"
"Let's see what they have downstairs and then we can go into the market, " Xena enticed, jingling their pouch of coins.
As quickly as she could the blonde was dressed, hair combed and heading out the door with the warrior in tow. They bounced down the stairs and moved to a table in the common room. Owen came up and asked what they'd have. After asking what the inn had available, the duo agreed on bread, cheese and a little oatmeal. Owen returned with their choices, laid them on the table and left. Gabrielle stuck her spoon in the stiff cream colored mixture and finally took a bite.
"Uggh" she groaned. "You sure this isn't the mortar they use between stones?"
"You know Gabrielle, if you put some of their butter in it, it would taste better. Maybe some of that milk in front of you too."
Gabrielle tried the two in the bowl and stirred them up. Xena had already done the same to hers plus a little honey, before the bard had taken a bite. Since she had lived in this land for quite a spell she was familiar on how to make some of the local food more palatable to her tongue. Gabrielle eyed the actions of the warrior and drizzled a little honey to her bowl as well.
"Not half bad" the blonde remarked.
"Yeah, and it'll stick to your ribs for the better part of the day. You won't get so hungry early on." She thought to herself 'that'll be a first!'.
"Well we're going to the Captain's home later so I think I'll have room for something else."
They snagged some peaches from a bowl before they left to munch on while walking through the market. They were big juicy plump ones full of flavor, just come to ripeness. Xena cut slices from hers with her breast dagger. She offered a slice to Gabrielle and placed it in her mouth before the blonde could even slice her own fruit.
"Gee these are good. Do they grow around here?" the bard asked as they passed by the boy that had served them the night before.
"Tree in the back," Owen pointed with his thumb over his shoulder.
"Mmm, the best I've ever had " she mumbled to herself. 'Might even be good in that oatmeal.'
The duo walked out into the bright sunshine. Every color was accented to its fullest this morning, making the bard squint and shade her eyes.
"Is everything so bright all of the time?"
"Except when it rains. Then after, the brightness is in the colored arch in the sky."
"I remember you telling me the story of the Sky and Earth and the Rainbow that connects them. If you remember that is our symbol too."
"I remember Gabrielle." Xena's face broke into an extremely large smile as she wrapped her arm across the shoulders of the bard. She reached over and kissed the fragrant light colored head.
As they walked into the interior of the bustling market Xena asked, "How about getting some local clothes for while we're here? You know, some of them are really pretty with colored threads in designs sewn all over them."
"Oh I'd like that Xena." Gabrielle was excited. Xena wanted to shop! She's do her best to make it a pleasant experience for her.
They made their way through several stalls of clothing, looking at this piece and that. But deciding not to have any of the woven crossed color or 'plaids' clothing on display. Nothing seemed to catch the eye of the warrior. She was hard to please. Finally Gabrielle pulled out a beautiful sky blue tunic with embroidered entwined beasts on the sleeves, around the neck and at the bottom of the shirt.
"This would be so beautiful on you Xena!" She gushed. "The blue almost matches your eyes!"
The warrior had to admit it was a beautiful shirt, and her size. The needlework was extraordinary. She hmmmd a bit and Gabrielle struck a price for it and paid for it. Xena found dark leather tight-fitting trewes that she purchased to go with it. Gabrielle found a soft butter colored linen tunic for herself, dyed with saffron, with embroidered birds and flowers in the same areas as Xena's decoration. She made a deal for it and it was added to their cache. Xena picked out another set of soft leather trewes of deerskin for Gabrielle (although she enjoyed seeing the bard's legs) and purchased them. They both found beautifully tooled leather belts and pouches with colorful spirals on them. They would look like natives when they went to the captain's house for dinner. They also purchased some very plain shifts and tunics and simple fabric trewes. Some lightweight cloaks and brats were a must, even though it was early summer, it was cooler here than what they were accustomed to.
"Never can get enough changes of clothes here, Love. You never know what the weather is going to do!" stated Xena. "Gotta be prepared."
All in all the money they had allotted to this shopping was not much depleted with these purchases as the bard could barter with anyone and come out on top. After looking around a bit more and deciding maybe a pair of ghillies for each of them would be a good change from their boots now and then, they tried several pair until they each found a fit. They would be walking the whole time they were in Eire and needed protective footwear .The duo gathered up their new belongings and went back to their room. Xena had a "surprise" she had purchased secretly and squirreled it away for later.
In the common room of the inn a young harper played in the corner softly. He was dressed in a soft short-sleeved saffron tunic with a brat of natural dyed colors and woven in the typical plaid thrown over his back behind him. It was pinned at the shoulder with a gold penannular brooch decorated with red and blue enamel. Tight colorful pants that ended below the knee finished his personal clothing. He wore arm rings of gold and a necklace of amber. He had on the ghillies that were common to the island. The cloak he sat on was dark, lined with red, the special color of Gaelic Bards. His face was lean, unlined and sprinkled liberally with freckles and clean-shaven, like the youth was too young to grow a beard. There was a shadow above his top lip of a mustache trying to form. His widespread heavy lidded eyes were a lustrous dark blue, almost black. The brows and lashes were long and dark. The deep chestnut colored hair on his head was thick and long to his shoulders with a small braid on either side of the head in front of his ears terminating in a small gold ball. His hands were delicate looking and narrow with long strong fingers. He wore two large gold rings, heavy in design, one on each of his middle fingers. He was normal height, for a Celt, slight of build and wiry with no obvious signs of much muscle. The instrument he played upon was a warm willow wood, darkened with age and with bright bronze strings. The soundboard was decorated with intricate zoomorphics entwined around the sound holes covering the entire surface. There was a carved head of some sort on the meeting of neck and forecolumn. Red stones were set into the column and gleamed when the light of the hearthfire hit them. The harp had a beautiful melodious voice as if ages that were trapped within it sang out joyfully. The bard's harp was named Amergin after a famous ancient ancestor that was the first Bard of Eire. The harper also carried a sword, sheathed, that he called Kincaid, but Xena decided that he didn't look capable of using it properly. It lay at his side alongside the rest of his belongings that were stuffed in a leather satchel. Everything this young fellow owned was covered in the bright designs so distinctive to this country.
Both women stopped to listen to him play and Xena motioned for Gabrielle to sit at a table nearby ordering something light to drink while she ran to their room with their purchases.
As the last note shimmers, fades and falls into silence, the blonde leans forward.
"That's really beautiful." Gabrielle said warmly to the young man. Xena returned and joined her.
"I'll be a-thanking you for your kind words," he replied as he started on another tune and then started to sing with the music he played. It was another softly played melody, but they couldn't understand the words, as the ones he used were an ancient variant of the Gaelic tongue. His voice was as beautiful and soothing as the music that flowed from the harp.
When he completed this last one, Gabrielle asked, "What is the story behind this beautiful song? And the language tell us about that."
Xena nodded her head in agreement, as she had been leaning in close trying to understand what the words meant. She also thought that the brooch the lad wore looked strangely familiar. It tickled a memory in her past.
"It'll be the story of a beautiful strange dark Warrior, who came from a land far away, and the search for someone here in our green land. The Warrior, after a futile search, sat in the most Sacred of our Groves, played a harp and singing for the lost love. Then the flowers of all of the land came together and formed the lost love and the two were united forever. The language is that of the DeDannans, our forebearers."
Xena's eyes grew large and Gabrielle drew in a slight gasp. "Ohhh," the blonde exhaled looking first at Xena then at the harper.
"Where did you learn about that story?" Xena asked cautiously of the lad.
"It's an old, old tale. Me father's father's teacher taught it to him. The teacher was a very famous Bard of our land, as was me father and his as well. I'm just learning to be a bard and to remember the stories and the music."
"What was the teacher's name?" Xena inquired slowly.
"He was the most well known in all of Eire. His name was Fedlimid MacDaill.He taught the Warrior himself, so he was witness of the story. Me father was Brendan MacConnor and his father was Connor MacFith. I am Finn O'Connor. But call me Finn."
The whole time he was reciting the legacy he had been plucking on the bronze strings of the harp, continuing the music. It seemed his fingers were continually moving, creating wonderful melodies.
"Pleased to meet you Finn". Gabrielle turned her most radiant smile on the lad. "I am Gabrielle and this is Xena."
Xena merely nodded at the lad, still being stuck with the audacity of the event that had just occurred Her eyes still were round as plates.
Finn looked at both of the women carefully. "Ye'll be not from around here, from Eire, are ye?"
Gabrielle ventured, as the cat still had ahold of Xena's tongue," Well not really. We just arrived on Captain Corwyn's ship. We live in Greece on the Middle Sea. Far, far away." She looked anxiously at Xena and then back to Finn.
"Mmmm yes. We do live in mmmm, ah, Greece. Amphipolis sometimes. Sometimes with the Amazons. But we travel around a lot", Xena finally was able to capture her speech again. "Tell me, is Fedlimid, this teacher, still alive?"
"Oh no. He was ancient when he taught the Warrior, and me father's father was the last of his students. This be his harp - Amergin be its name - 'twas passed on to me father's father, me father then to me! The spirit of this harp has continued for so long, I canna see that die - it has to continue, for this," he stroked his instrument lovingly, "has witnessed so much history I canna never catch up!"
'That's why it looked and sounded so familiar, it's my teacher's harp!' she thought to herself.
Xena's disappointment at being told Felidmid had passed over was extremely evident. "Mmmmm it has been a long time, I really forget that around others," she murmured basically to herself. She shook her head of those ancient thoughts to clear her mind to the reality of the present.
"Gabrielle and Xena", Finn asked quesionedly," your names seem so familiar Why be ye come to Eire?"
"Well, we have traveled around a lot," Gabrielle offered while giving a sidelong glance to Xena.
"Maybe so, but I must think on your names and why I find them so familiar I've got it!"
Xena's brows lifted into her hairline and Gabrielle jumped back a bit at his exclamation.
"Your names are the same as those of the Warrior and the girl of the flowers. Strange you seem to fit the descriptions too. Beautiful women these were as ye both are! But it couldna be! That happened generations ago!"
Finn seemed quite pleased with himself to remember that bit of information, but after all he was a bard, or at least a bard-in-training. Gaelic bards had a remarkable memory and he was training his to be so as well.
"Uhhh," Xena finally ventured into the fray, "not so strange at all. The story is about us." She grinned sheepishly. Gabrielle did as well.
"Nae! Oh! I canna believe it! It happened so many, many years ago. I canna believe that I'll be meeting the people I have heard about all of my life, and me fathers and his fathers. I canna believe! People I've known only through the stories and the music. You look so young how can this legend be about ye?"
"Yes, it is and it did happen to us. But we have returned so Gabrielle can see the place where I 'found' her. It is a beautiful land and we should have returned long before now."
"Play the song again for us Finn please," Gabrielle asked. " And why do you sing in the language of the ancients?"
"Because that was how it was taught," he proudly exclaimed. "Fedlimid wrote the song in the language of the DeDannans and we keep it so. Why I do not know." He kept mumbling to himself, 'I canna believe it, I canna believe it!'
He started again on the tune and story as the two women sat back, Gabrielle leaning against the warrior and reflected on the beauty of the music that concerned them. Xena had slipped her arm around the blonde while the story unfolded. Their hands clasped. They had understood the words perfectly this time.
Soon it was of a time to dress in their new finery and go to the captain's house. They had asked if the harper would accompany them and he had agreed. The trio left the inn with a smile on their lips and a song in their hearts. Finn left with the harp on his back in its sack.
They found the house easily, as Corwyn was a man of some notoriety from his shipping and trading and everyone knew where he lived when on land. The home was larger than most, but modest looking. Like others in the area it had a thatched roof but many windows. The stone walls were whitewashed with lime. The door was carved and painted vibrant colors that related to the sea, altho' of Celtic origin. There was a large colorful stone placed at the stoop and a large carved lintel over the door. In front of the house was a fenced-in yard, where animals sometimes stayed, children played and a garden of vegetables and herbs resided. The gate had an interesting design to it, interlocking spirals of woven wood, silvered with age. The arch over the gate was carved with similar designs. There was a metal tube high above the gate and a striker. Xena hit the metal to metal and there was a pleasant loud ring that echoed off the house.
When Corwyn greeted them at the door he remarked. "Ye'll be lookin like the finest of the Chiefs and Bards in all Eire, Xena, Gabrielle! Come, come inside and share our houses' warmth and meal!" He noted the young lad with the harp slung over his shoulder and greeted him as well, "Welcome Bard! My house is yours as well."
Xena motioned to the harper and said, "Corwyn this is Finn O'Connor. We heard him play today and thought you and yours might enjoy his music as did we."
"Ah, the O'Connor is it? A thousand welcomes to ye, lad!" Corwyn elbowed Xena with a wink and quietly mentioned "So, ye found yurself a harper and another bard as well!"
Inside the hearth room was large and comfortable with many things from distant lands that he had traveled to. There were pairs of chairs from Egypt and Greece and Rome. Carved tables came from the Scandinavian lands. On the walls were painted scenes from all places Cor had seen. Beautiful woven hangings were also evident. It was definitely a small synopsis of his life - what he did, where he went, and what he liked. If it was pretty, you can be sure Cor liked it and wanted to own it. It was a warm and inviting place, made moreso by the people that inhabited it. There was a wooden floor with a tile insert around the hearth. Very unusual, because most of the houses here in Eire had dirt floors. Rugs of cloth and animal skins were placed in various spots around the large room on the floor.
Cor brought forth his wife and children.
"This'll be me lovey wife and companion when I am on the land, Deirdre, and our children," he motioned to each, "Ailell, Brian, Ceantine, Donavan, and the baby, Etain. This'll be the two I was speaking of, - Xena - she's the tall dark one, and Gabrielle - she's the fair one," he nodded to his wife and children.
"Welcome to our home," smiled Deirdre.
Deirdre was indeed a lovely woman with dark hair, nearly as black as Xena's, taller than Gabrielle, but not as tall as the warrior. Her skin was so fair, she was almost stark white, with a warm red blush on her cheeks. She had lively green eyes that were on the golden side, deep dimples when she smiled or laughed (which was a lot). She had not an ounce of spare flesh on her body, but was not thin. She seemed very strong and athletic and muscled.
"Aye me Deirdre used to sail with me, afore the chilluns started coming. Someday she'll go back to the sea with me! When they have reached an age," Cor proudly said.
Deirdre smiled at him with her twinkle and dimples, and a knowing look, "I'm only waitin until the time comes agin I can step foot on the Swan Road."
The children, three boys and two girls all had hair in various shades of red with sparkling blue eyes. The baby's eyes were dark, but looked to be turning blue at some time before long. They ranged in age from nine years to one year for the baby.
Gabrielle was enchanted with the children as they were with her. She got down on her knees and started to speak and play with the young ones. They all gathered around her, patting her and crawling into her arms and lap when she finally sat down, chattering constantly, some getting a little rowdy, as boys tend to do.
Gabrielle said, "If you all will behave I will tell you a story later and Finn will play his harp. Is that all right?" She stroked a small child's face and tousled another's hair.
They all nodded and grabbed at her hands and smiled huge grins as they giggled and laughed. Donavan toddled over to in front of the warrior. He just stood closely in front of her looking up, up, up. She grinned down at him and he lost all inhibitions, smiled at her and lifted his arms up, to be picked up. He was only three and Xena was touched. She bent down and scooped the youngster up in her arms and held him on her hip. (It's been awhile, she thought.)
The toddler nestled against her, patting her hair, "Like mama's" he said.
She cuddled him for a moment, inhaling his baby-scent, kissed his curly head and softly put him down. He ran over to his siblings smiling big and jabbering to his brothers and sister.
Xena leaned against the wall with her arms crossed and smiled as she looked at her soulmate. Gabrielle so loved and wanted children and Xena wasn't opposed to it. She herself had had a son long before, and did not veto the idea. She wasn't sure if Gabrielle was capable of having children. But if she could, she'd see what she could do about having her love's dream come true. After all, they were in magical Eire. Who knows what could take place here! Gabrielle turned and smiled up at Xena. When their eyes met electricity emanated from one to the other.
Deirdre called every one to sit down at the large table for the food she had served. There was a large joint of roasted meat, which Cor carved for everyone's plate. Vegetables cooked and raw were in bowls of great beauty on the table. Bread and cheese and fruit were also in abundance.
The children had milk to drink while the adults had a headier beverage of wine or ale. Xena was pleased to note that the wine had the flavor of home.
After the food was eaten and everyone had their fill of the huge feast, Finn pulled his harp from its case and tuned the instrument. He still couldn't believe he was in the presence of the legends he had heard about all of his life. He was going to do whatever he could to remain in their good graces and presence for as long as he could.
'Hmph' though Xena about the tuning, 'some things never change.'
Everyone settled back in their chairs or on the floor against the hearth, the baby Etain snuggled down in Gabrielle's arms. The other children leaned against her. Donavan claimed his place against Xena resting his little hand on her thigh.
Finn played and sang quite a few songs about wars and battles in the past, the beauty of Eire and finally, after a small break, he started the song that pertained to Xena and Gabrielle. All listened intently, the smaller children had fallen asleep lulled by his music. The baby was handed over to her mother and Deirdre placed her in her crib and Donavan in his. Xena noted that the same intricate woodwork was evident in the children's furniture.
Gabrielle curled up between Xena's legs leaning back against her. The blonde reached up and stroked Xena's cheek, finally cupping her chin and turning her head towards her. They looked into each other's eyes and smiled. Then returned their attention to the harper and his story.
The captain and his wife seemed to understand the strange ancient language and their eyes grew large, yet knowing when realization hit. The husband and wife looked from the harper to the women, then back at the harper again. They also understood the relationship between the warrior and the bard. Xena simply smiled and cocked her head in agreeable nod, then leaned over and placed a kiss on the blonde head. Gabrielle smiled up at her partner after she did this and patted Xena's inner thigh.
After the song was finished there was a silence while everyone collected their individual thoughts, then complimenting Finn on his artistry with the harp and the words.
Corwyn said, "I din't realize that that story I'll be a hearin all me life was about you two! How wonderful to meet and finally know in person one of the legends of our past!"
His wife acquiesced, "Aye 'tis wonderful it is to meet ye two. I've felt liken I'se been knowin ye for me lifetime."
Finn's face just beamed with the compliments he had received and the knowledge he had of the famous duo.
Then Cor spoke up and asked Gabrielle to tell a story or recite a poem.
"Tell 'em one of those ye told us all on the ship, Gabrielle," Cor ventured. " Or maybe a different 'un."
She rose from her safe haven and walked to the hearth and turned around. Smiling at Xena first, then at every other awake person in the room she began her tale.
"In a medium-sized town south of Athens a procession of brown robe-clad worshipers marched through the street carrying a staff on which a precious diamond was ensconced.
As they walked along a man in green leather, also covered by the brown robe, swung down in front of the group and grabbed the jewel and tore off to the roofs. He came to the ground several streets away in an alley and was much pleased with himself. He looked up and there was the Warrior Princess standing imposingly in front of him. He takes off again with Xena in pursuit. Across roofs, over fences, under wash hanging out he ran with her in hot pursuit.
Finally she cornered him and he said, "This is mine! I stole it! I have a use for it!"
The Warrior replied, "Now what would I want with a melted chunk of rock sugar!"
He pulled out his misappropriated goods, and sure enough it was a flattened piece of clear sugar.
I showed up in the brown robes and added, "Sure looked like a diamond didn't it?"
"I applaud your attempt - but its not that easy to catch the King of Thieves!" He turns and runs up steps. Xena simply grabs the bottom of the rug that runs up those steps and yanks. He falls down hitting his chin on each step to the bottom.
"Not easy to catch - but not impossible," says Xena.
"Oh this is fine," he moans.
He is a handsome man, tall, dark hair and eyes with a mustache and small beard. He also knows he has good looks.
We three went into a tavern and sat at a table. The warrior has tied the thief's hands, and stabbed a dagger into the tabletop (sharp side facing the opposite way of the cords).
"I want you to steal the most valuable object in the world." She tells him.
"Is this really necessary?" nodding to his hands, "I haven't lied to you!"
"You haven't yet," she replied.
"Didn't Hercules tell you I was an honorable man? At least cover up my hands so no one sees - its embarrassing for Zeus' sake!"
A cloth is laid over his hands on the table.
Something is dropped and Xena bends over to pick it up. Autolucus, for that's his name, brings one hand out from under the cloth, then the other. He waves them at me. My eyes grow large in surprise.
Xena sits up and Autolycus says, "The dagger was a surprise, but as you can see," and he lifts both hands free of their encumbrances, "it didn't take me so long." He stands up to go, takes a step and falls on his face. His bootlaces have been tied together.
After thinking for a moment he decides to go along with the challenge that has been thrown his way and asks for details. For he has no more desire to be bested by the warrior.
"Funny, I don't remember Hercules mentioning you Xena."
"We keep a lot of things private" she replies.
"Do you know of the warlord Malthus?" the Xena inquires.
"He has an island off the coast. But I don't steal from him and he doesn't gouge out my eyes with hot pokers. Works very well so far."
"Malthus has stolen a chest containing a valuable weapon. Most valuable in the world. I need you to help me return it to the owners."
"Sure, use my ego against me!"
The three of us met the people who have lost their property. They are poor folk but have presented 2000 coins to begin the search and 2000 more when their property is returned. Auto takes the money with no inhibitions.
Shopping to find suitable clothes for a wealth warlord proves interesting. Finally something is found to satisfy both Autolycus and Xena, and she turns to go. He brings out a skimpy outfit he has found for her to wear. She declines and storms off, but he purchases it.
I am left yet again while Xena and Auto aboard ship to sail to the island and the meeting of many other warlords with Malthus who proposed to sell it top the highest bidder for a lot of money.
. The people who held this item as their sacred trust could not afford to even join in on the dickering for their property. Malthus had warlords from all over contacted and told he had a valuable weapon like none other, to sell. He devised a plan to ferry the ten warlords that were interested to an island and have them wage a contest to see who could out maneuver whom for the item."
Gabrielle got very animated in the telling of this story and displayed her artistry for convincing her audience that she was each person she talked about.
" Autolycus was to become the warlord Centares and Xena his "helper/concubine, Cherish.
The Warrior was not happy about this, but let it go - for the moment. They introduced themselves and gained passage on the ship. While on board Auto really took on the persona of Centares and bullied most of the other passengers around a bit with frightening actions, like using a toothpick as a killing weapon. Xena got the short end of the stick, including her being knocked overboard, inadvertently, according to Auto. But nonetheless everyone on board arrived safely, if not a little worse for wear, and landed on the island. The ship returned to it's home port that night, so everyone was marooned there. Malthus met the prospective buyers of his wares and showed them the weapon at the banquet he had prepared. It was a beautiful gold chest with carvings and iron strapwork. Malthus did not open the chest, but left it up to the "buyers" as to what would be inside. He said he would open and demonstrate it tomorrow. He had it set in a curtained alcove that was booby trapped so no one could get close to the chest without his knowing. He did not want it stolen. Asked why he wasn't keeping the weapon Malthus replied that he wasn't afraid of it. So he decided to sell it to the highest bidder. He explained the traps that had been set, from loud bells that would ring if anyone stepped close to the alcove to human hairs and spider silk that were almost invisible attached to the chest Those too, if touched, would cause the bells to ring. The room was locked after they left and Malthus had the only key. Sneaky, clever Autolycus slipped some wax from candle drippings into his hand and walked over to Malthus and as he was conversing with him he reached down and made an imprint of the key in the wax he held. 'Centares' had 'Cherish' dance as entertainment and a diversion."
Gabrielle did a few of the steps to show her audience some of the veil dance Cherish entertained with. Xena smiled seductively at her partner.
"Malthus never realized anything was being done. Seeing how pleased Malthus was watching Cherish's dance, Centares suggested that she might be an added incentive to his bidding price.
After being shown to their room, and making jokes over the only bed, and who was going to actually sleep on it, they planned their escapade. The daring duo snuck into the room with the key and proceeded to the alcove. They drew back the curtains and found Malthus' body there instead of the chest. He was dead!
Gabrielle really got into the story, showing with her hands and body how all of the movements were done.
"Before they could get really back to their room, they were called into the main hall. There Arkeles, Malthus' second-in-command announced that Malthus had been murdered and 'someone' in that room did it! He pulled back the cloth that covered the fat body of Malthus.
They returned to their room and heard the guards announcing they were searching everyone's room, because of the death of Malthus. Auto pulled back the curtains of the bed, and the chest was in the center there! Xena got on the bed and read the inscription on the top, "Don't fear the Truth. Face it. For to turn away from Truth is Death."
The guards are beating on the door for admittance. They intend to search the room.
"Just a moment" Cherish calls out.
The guards don't wait. They push in the door loudly.
Centares is in the bed, covering the chest with the bedclothes, with Cherish across his back is a compromising position.
"I told you just a minute!" Cherish chastises.
"Umm, sorry. Looks alright in here," says one of the guards and leaves slamming the door red-faced.
Now they decided to put the chest back where it was originally, for no one would look for it there."
Gabrielle paused and took a sip of the drink that was offered her. She turned and then continued.
"The duo entered the treasure room from the balcony overlooking it. Auto shot out a device that carried a thin rope to the opposite wall and slid down to the floor. Xena threw a larger rope over one of the beams to Auto and tied her end around the chest. She lowered it off of the railing of the balcony and Auto started slowly letting it down to the floor. Somehow or other the extra rope got looped around his foot and the weight of the chest swung him into the air. Xena flipped to the floor just as Arkeles walked in.
"What are you doing here? Where is Centares?" he demanded.
"I was looking for the body of Malthus." She lied.
She flipped him around so he wouldn't see Auto as he disentangled himself from the rope, replaced the chest and started to sneak past the two. Xena had the Major Domo in an embrace suggesting they could go somewhere together and whirled him around again, so Auto looked like he just came into the door.
"There you are Cherish. I was wondering what happened to you." Auto said with all sincerity.
"Everyone wants to see an exhibition of the weapon," Arkeles stated, "it will be in a while in the cave."
Meanwhile the villagers on the island had been routed up and captured by Malthus' guards.
Xena and Autolycus decide to try and release the villagers, but when they arrive outside the palace many guards tried to prevent them from leaving the premises. Naturally the guards don't have a chance as Xena battles her way through the group with Auto actually holding up his end. He tells her to go ahead and he will take care of the rest of them and he does! Xena jumps on a horse and rides off to find the villagers. Auto follows soon after.
On the beach she is surprised by Arkeles who says, "Meet the real Centares."
A tall thin man walked in carrying a figure covered by a blanket and lays the figure down. By this time Auto has joined Xena. Arkeles introduced the "other" Centares to the real one.
"Hello Xena." He turned to the once second in command and said, "This is Xena the Warrior Princess."
"And then, who are you?" is asked of Autolycus.
"I'm Autolycus King of Thieves" he mumbled.
The blanket being taken off the figure on the ground reveals that it is ME. This tall fellow, who I now know as Centares, kidnapped me in the port and brought me here.
He held fingers at my head on each side of my brow pushing slightly causing extreme pain.
"Ow, Xena " I beseechingly look to her for help.
"You know, it wouldn't take much more pressure for me to kill her," he said with a satisfied smirk.
"Hello Centares", she said growling, moving to intercept the man.
He rises and walks towards the warrior.
"Watch the girl."
I escape and run to behind Xena and Auto, we battled the guards a little then run into the woods."
Gabrielle was becoming more excited as she continued her tale.
"In the woods we are planning our next move. My head is killing me. The pain is so intense from the pressure points Centares put upon me.
"Head still hurt?" Xena asks.
"Oh Xena, you'll never know. Can't seem to get rid of it."
"Come her a minute," she reaches over and twists my neck.
"It'll all go away in a few minutes," she calmly replies.
The villagers must be released, and Xena and Auto leave to do that, while I'm told to follow the guards, Arkeles and Centares and leave a trail. I'm hiding in the bushes until they pass by on the road. After what I think is a goodly amount of time, I come out of hiding and step to the edge of the road. I'm leaning down placing three rocks, the top oblong one pointing the direction the caravan had taken, when I look up and there is Centares! Moving his eyebrows up and down at me, smiling that evil smile. So I'm captured again and taken to the cave where the chest awaits.
Everyone is gathered to see the miraculous weapon. I'm still being held against my will.
Xena appears at the cave opening, looking glorious with the sun lighting her from behind.
All of the warlords that were there to witness the weapon have quickly left, as have all of the villagers. We are the only ones left here.
She steps down confidently to engage Centares in the battle they both know is inevitable.
He rose to his extreme height and they began circling in their dance of pressure points that could mean sudden death. He poses with his long finger bent downwards, lifting his leg every now and then, and moving similar to a stalking bird."
Gabrielle did her imitations of the dance that Centares did circling her audience and looking very menacing. Xena grinned at her, then chuckled remembering. Everyone else in this small group had the bard's rapt attention, their eyes open wide as to what would happen next.
"Each lashed out at the other and effectively blocked the other's blows. Kicks, hits and flips were all part of their dangerous repertoire they both threw at each other. But Centares was the first to breech the defenses and hit Xena in the left shoulder with his disabilitating "pinch". Xena counter acted it and got though his defenses with a pinch of her own in his neck. He turned away from her and snapped his head back and forth until he was satisfied all was all right again. She did the same with her shoulder. His next breakthrough was in her thigh and she went down on her knee. While she was down he came in for the kill with his finger formed above her head. She reached up and hit him in the heart. Centares eyes grew large with "I can't believe it" look and he collapsed on the sand, dead.
When Arkeles saw what was happening he ran into the alcove of the cave where the chest was waiting for its exhibition. Xena, Auto and I followed and watched as Arkeles went to chest saying, "I want to see what this weapon is!"
He lifted the lid and peered inside, his eyes grew large. He turned and ran away from the chest. A light rose from inside the chest and formed into a cross of light. He kept running.
Xena said, "Don't fear the Truth, face it. For to turn away from the Truth is Death. Stay where you are Gabrielle and do not fear it!" She quoted the inscription on the top of the chest. I was very afraid, but quite amazed but we all stayed where we stood.
All of a sudden a bolt of fire shot out from the light and hit Akelses disintegrating him on the spot. The light grew smaller and dissipated. We went to the chest and looked inside. There were two rock tablets with carving on them.
"Hmmm, Thou Shalt Not Steal. Well, that isn't something I want to hear about!" Auto snorted as he read the writing on the stone.
Xena and I read them all and put them back into the chest carefully and closed it up. The boat was waiting at the dock and we sailed immediately.
When we returned to the mainland we returned the chest and its contents to the people to whom it belonged. They were so grateful. They gave Auto the promised 2000 coins and promptly left with the chest on their wagon.
We said our good-byes to Auto, he always trying to get a kiss from Xena. Unfortunately, for him, it never works. I shook hands with him and said farewell. Autolucus disappeared on his way to wherever and whatever hi-jinks he had envisioned.
"What a shame he couldn't have left those people with a little of what they had worked so hard for," I remarked to Xena.
She motioned for me to look at the back of the wagon. For in a basket tied on the back was the bag of coins the people had just given Auto.
"Seems he wasn't so bad after all," Xena said with a smile.
"Well, if I'd have known he was going to do that, I wouldn't have done this!" I showed Xena the large gold ring I had taken from Auto when I shook his hand goodbye.
"I know, I know. I'll give it back to him, next time we see him," as we walked off down the road. I had a little of a hop and bounce to my step, being pleased that I could carry off that slight-of-hand against Autolycus. I WOULD give the ring back whenever we would see him again .maybe."
Gabrielle turned to all of the people sitting around and bowed to their applause and compliments.
When it was time to take their leave of the wonderful hospitality, Xena clasped Cor's arm and asked when he was to sail again.
"Ooo, not for another month or two. Me crew will have me head if I don't allow them some time at home. As will me dear wife! Will ye'll be a wanting to sail with me again?"
"Sometime soon we will want to head to the south again. If at all possible I would like it to be on your ship and with you as captain!" Xena replied.
"Where are you going now?"
"To try and find the Grove of Cathbad. To show Gabrielle where I found her. And maybe some other places we frequented after I had found her."
"Good luck to ye on your travels. I hope to see ye agin when its time for ye to go to the south on the 'Swan Road'. It's proud I am to know ye."
"Tell me one thing Cor, before we go, who made the beautiful gate in the yard and how?"
"Oooo. That's being me that created that gate. You know the voyages are long and I have free time and idle hands, sometimes, "he grinned. "I found the strange beautiful wood in one of those southern ports off the Middle Sea, south agin of the Pillars of Hercules. It comes from the lands far to the south of Egypt. Seems like on every trip I find time to make something and bring it to home"
"Sometime you'll have to show me how to make one similar. I'd like to make one for our home. I'm really impressed by the artistic workmanship. How you curve and intertwine those large pieces of wood. It's really beautiful!" Xena gave heartfelt compliments.
"Ooo, it'll be really not that hard when ye know the secrets. It's I'll be happy to show ye how."
Gabrielle had taken Deirdre into an embrace and they kissed each other on the cheek.
"I hope to see you again sometime" Gabrielle said, "and your beautiful children."
"The luck on ye, and the big friend at your side. This too I hope to see ye, but if not, know that you have friends here in Duibvlin-town. And, I want to hear more about those Amazons!" she said with a chuckle and twinkle in her golden eyes.
They left the house heading back to the inn for the rest of the night's rest. Finn followed as he had secured a room for himself for payment of playing in the inn.
"If it's the same to you, I'm hopin' it is, that I will be allowed to join ye on your search."
Xena glanced at her companion, who nodded an affirmation, so Xena said, "Sure, we'd be happy to have you accompany us on our travels. But know this so there's no misunderstanding. Gabrielle is mine as I am hers. We have lived too many years of our lives for confusion to set into other people's minds concerning us and the feelings we have for each other. We love each other like nothing else and are soulmates. I will protect her with my life."
Gabrielle nodded in agreement. "As I will do for her."
"Finn, if you like to travel and experience new and old places like we do you will fit right in with us. Just be aware of time that we need alone now and then," Gabrielle said with a wink "Besides I would love to hear more and more of your wonderful music. I've been told that I was made of music and flowers, so I would like to experience it fully again the music of this land."
Finn was beside himself with joy. "Ye'll be havin no trouble from me, I understand yur relationship. 'Tis not so strange a thing here. Love be'll a great thing when it'll be found. Maybe it'll be that I can help ye in the countryside for me part."
"And you can teach me some of the old tales and legends too, like about the De Dananns and the others," Gabrielle happily chirped.
"And it would be pleased that I am to be a doin' so," he answered.
Each of the three companions looked at each other, smiled and grasped forearms in agreement with the bargain struck.
The next morning found the trio packing up their belongings, securing food and asking directions to a place Xena had remembered. With the packs on their backs and shoulders they struck out into the heart of Eire on their quest.
"Do you remember the black cliffs that look into the sea in the west?" Xena asked of Gabrielle as they walked along.
"Are those the ones that are so far above the water like the height of 400 tall men the drop is immense? They are as dark as night?" she questioned back.
"Yes, the waves sometimes crash half way up the sides. There is no way to the bottom and definitely no beach!" Xena answered.
"Vaguely I remember dark cliffs and high dangerous seas. Is this where we're going?"
"Well, if I recall correctly it's not too far from the nemeton, maybe two days walk. Do you want to try and see it again? We went there after we left the Grove those many years ago. It was a beautiful sight, Gabrielle. We can take the time to return there."
"If we can Xena. Have you ever been there Finn?"
"Seems as if I have. Sure and I'll be thinking it's the most west in the sun of Eire. But it'll be so beautiful, as ye'll be a callin it that I would like to be a seein it again. On a clear day it'll be said that ye can see the edge of Tir-Nan-Og. It'll be said that it be at the edge of the world."
"What is that? A place, another land?" Gabrielle asked.
"It's the land where nothing ever grows old, Gabrielle. Everything is always green and young and happy. It's also known as Summerland, similar to our Elysian Fields."
"How be ye a knowin about Tir-Nan-Og Xena?" asked Finn.
"Remember, I lived here, in Eire, for quite a while. And the stories, customs and culture sorta sunk into me," she grinned.
"How do you get there?" Gabrielle was growing enthusiastic.
"No one knows, for sure," Finn stated wistfully. "Sometimes someone just sort of vanishes, and it'll be said they have gone to Tir-Nan-Og. Or it be said that the Prydn, or Faeries, come to fetch folks for the place."
"What are the Prydn?" inquired the blonde.
"They'll be the ancients that keep Tir-Nan-Og safe."
"Ohh " Gabrielle murmured softly. "Faeries ..hmmmmm."
Xena knew the wheels were already spinning in the blonde head she loved so much. She'd hear about this again, she was sure of it. One way or another.
They walked over hill and dale, moor and bog in this rolling land, through many villages or clan holdings and forests. The trio visited with the people and traded for food. But the hospitality of the people of this land always had them stay to eat at least one meal with the hosts, and of course encouraged the harper to play. The natives also asked them to stay overnight, so at least on a few occasions, when the weather was wet, they had a roof over their heads and kept relatively dry. Some things seemed familiar to Xena, but then it had been many years since she had been here. Trees had grown in here and there and land had been cleared for planting. New towns and villages had emerged.
Finally on the crest of one of the last small mountains overlooking a beautiful green meadow they saw the ruins of a herder's shed. There was no roof at all anymore, and only two walls were still standing. Recognition dawned on the warrior. They continued walking quickly downhill until they reached the ruins.
"I think this is the place we hid from the storm Gabrielle. Remember, we came outside after the rain and saw that glorious rainbow."
Gabrielle got a dreamy look in her eyes and noted, " hmmm yes. This was where you told me the story about the rainbow and we took it as our symbol."
Finn grew curious and asked, "What'll be that story Xena?"
Xena sat on the ground cross-legged and lowered the blonde into her lap between her legs. Gabrielle snuggled into her warm embrace. Finn soon joined them on the soft grass. He laid his bundles down carefully and leaned back against one of the stone walls.
"That would be the love story of the Earth and Sky. Surely you have heard that one Finn?"
"Where Mother Earth and Father Lugh - or Sky had been joined completely, but one
of their children - I think it was the Oak - pushed them apart forever? That'll be why the
Oak is sacred here." He connected quickly historical stories and facts.
"Yes, that's the one. But the Rainbow connected them afterwards," the warrior replied.
Gabrielle ventured "There was much more to the story than that. It was one of the longest detailed ones you have ever told me Xena." The blonde had used it many times in her own repertoire of stories and elaborated the facts of the story.
The brunette chortled, "Maybe so, my love, maybe so."
Gabrielle lay down in the high grass and put her head in Xena's lap. They rested there and took in the sights and wonder of the land. Finn pulled his harp from its sack and after tuning, played a little. He sang of the beauty of the island. He was learning how to invoke the Elements, but chose not to do so at this time. This was a time for remembering and his music cast a spell over the listeners.
The notes were crystalline, echoing across the valley, ringing pure and clear. The very area shimmered with the sound as he played. Some of the strings were struck loudly imitating battles and others softly like the sounds of two lovers. Visions became clearer
as the melodies doubled and tripled upon itself. The wholes of Eire opened up to the listeners before him, they "saw" its history form from its beginning to the present. Fingernails gleamed as they rippled chords and arpeggios into the perfumed air as he wove a spell of timelessness and eternity. Finn stopped and the air sparkled with the fading sounds. He started a lighter tune, meant to relax and calm. The piece succeeded in that everything within hearing settled in to listen quietly. The sounds caressed the soft skin of his audience. The air changed color to a hazy blue.
There would be a time, he knew that he must invoke the fog to roll in and then dissipate. The clouds to come and cover, and hide all from peering eyes. The roiling waters to still. Illness to be abated. Many things were available to the accomplished bard. Even the satires that were the power of Bards that everyone had respect and fear of. This all was at the hands of the talented young man.
But today they all enjoyed the company of one another and the vistas that was before them.
He set the instrument aside in an upright position. The strings reverberated with the soft breeze winding its way through the strings.
"Amergin sings!" the blonde said, "on its own!" She turned to look at Xena, "Like Ceis!"
"Always" answered Finn. "Sometimes he'll even speak. The breeze whispering through 'is strings caused 'im to sing though Gabrielle."
"Finn," Gabrielle asked, "why are some of your harpstrings different colors?"
"Gabrielle, remember the harp, Ceis, that made you, at home? It's the same."
"Yes, but how are the metal strings colored? And why?"
"They are colored with the blood of the harper, my love."
"Well that sounds gruesome."
"Not really, just tradition," stated Xena.
"And it'll be the first and fourth strings of each octave that'll be colored with the blood red," chimed in Finn.
"From learning to play, fingertips will bleed until they are hardened. The blood of each generation of harpers on their harps recolor the bronze strings," added Xena.
"And it'll be the first and fourth so ye'll know at a glance where ye'll be on the strings. But iffen a harper be blind, there is no need. We all learn to play in the dark. It'll be beneficial iffen the bard gets old and loses the eyesight," Finn explained.
"Tell me Xena, why do ye not play? Ye may play me own harp if ye wish."
"No Finn. That is your instrument. I will not presume to attempt the playing of Amergin.
I did once, and was sorry for it, but my harp, Ceis, is at home. I don't play that much anymore."
"Ur ye afraid she'll be goin' away if ye do?" he said with a wink towards the blonde.
"No, no. But why chance the Fates?" she replied. "She's here to stay with me."
The warrior was full of playfulness. Xena took Gabrielle into her lap, lifted her knees and put her feet at the base of her butt, reached out and laid the blonde's right hand on the upraised knees, then placed her left hand to grasp around the ankles. Gabrielle's face was filled with her smile and four eyes twinkled with mischief. The warrior leaned her long frame around the small body in front of her. It was one of the games they had played over the years.
"See, I always have a harp handy," she grinned as she brought her soulmate back to lean against her shoulder, pivoting the blonde on her bottom so that when she was angled back only her toes could reach the ground for balance. Their heads were pressed together cheek to cheek.
"And I can 'play' her anytime! She's always in perfect tune!"
Gabrielle giggled with obvious delight.
"Finn, this is my harp 'Bard'," Xena seemed very pleased with herself and her partner in the play they were concocting.
"See how the verdant jewels always shine." She nodded to Gabrielle's green eyes.
Xena acted as if there were strings attached to Gabrielle's upraised arm or neck of 'her instrument' and used her hands in a show of a glissando, imitating the sound with her voice. She continued with another tune. Her fingers finished on the ribs of the 'harp' as she lightly ticked the blonde's body. Both women laughed deeply at their joke and the 'harp' broke her triangular figuration. Gabrielle threw her arms around Xena's neck turning in the warrior's arms, still giggling.
"Play me Xena," Gabrielle whispered in her ear, then kissed and tongued it.
"Oh I will, my Bard, you can rest assured," growled the warrior with a twinkle in her eye. The two looked in each other's eyes knowingly, then both burst out laughing.
Finn joined in the fun as the three rolled in the long grasses of the ruins, holding their sides from the intensity of the laughter they had been enjoying.
It was late in the evening when they decided to go ahead and spend the night in the comforting arms of the ruins. Gabrielle and Finn retrieved water, gathered wood and made a fire while Xena caught a hare to make a stew. After they had eaten, their cloaks were spread out in the soft grass near the walls. Xena and Gabrielle used one for underneath and the other for cover. Finn simply wrapped himself up like a package and promptly fell asleep. Xena held her love close until she heard the unmistakable soft sounds of sleep from her partner.
She kissed the soft hair of the person she loved most in the world and then drifted off to sleep as well. A protective golden mist completely circled over the travelers protecting them from anyone's eyes until dawn.
The warrior awoke first and stoked the dying fire back to life. Then she went in search of something for the morning meal. Luckily she had spotted the night before a bush that she was almost sure contained blackberries, so she went to harvest some. She carried a cloth to wrap them in.
The early sun, not yet bright enough to leach color from the day, met Xena with a feeling of wonderment. It reminded her of days long ago. This was the paint-board of the gods. From these hills and high meadows with their rich yellows and blues, subtle lavenders and infinite variety of greens, were the store of colors from which illuminated the rest of the world. She inhaled a large breath as her eyes beheld the vista. The early moments of the sunrise were a visual treat.
"It was a shame it was so fleeting, Gabrielle would have loved it," she murmured.
When she returned Finn was up and warming the leftover stew. Gabrielle was still in the arms of Morpheus, but the warrior quickly remedied that. Xena so wanted Gabrielle to witness what she had herself just seen. She bent down and kissed the blonde firmly on the mouth pushing her tongue into the warm open mouth of the slightly snoring Gabrielle.
"Ooohhh, what a nice way to wake up!" the blonde groaned, her large eyes fluttering open and quickly growing opaque. She sucked on the gift that she had just been given. At the same time her hands were searching for intimate parts of the warrior.
Xena grabbed both of her partner's hands and whispered in her ear, "Not now, my love. Remember, we have company."
A very disappointed blonde bard stuck out her bottom lip and pouted.
"You wake me up like that and then refuse .?"
"Later Gabrielle. There will be a place, I promise. We will be alone and can enjoy each other to our heart's desire. And you missed the most glorious sunrise!"
Gabrielle rose and snagged some of the berries, chomping on them merrily.
"These are really sweet, Xena. Where did you find them?"
"Just over by that small lake. Do you want to go swimming in a bit? Maybe I can catch a fish for another meal."
"Oh yes. We haven't been swimming in a long time."
While the other two were eating Xena decided to do some sword drills. She didn't want to get rusty. So she put herself into quite a workout, doing flips and half running up the sides of trees.
"Oh! It's like I'll be a watchin the great Cuchulain himself," Finn said, thinking somewhere that seemed so familiar a thought. "The grace, strength and ooo, even the Salmon Leap," as Xena did some of her flips.
"Does she do this all of the time?" he asked Gabrielle.
"No, she's not always able to, but she does practice as much as she can." Gabrielle looked at the warrior with her complete affection.
"She's great, huh?"
"Yea, there is no doubt," he answered. He greatly admired swordmanship and wished he were capable of it. She only needed Gae Bulga, the spear. He knew there wasn't a weapon she couldn't use to perfection. He was fascinated watching what he thought might be a reincarnation of the greatest hero of Eire.
Everything was packed up again and they trudged off to the lake, which wasn't as close as Gabrielle had hoped. But when they arrived she decided it was worth it. For it was a beautiful setting, even with a small waterfall at one end of the small loch. It didn't take long for them to shed their clothes down to their shifts and dive in. Finn was left standing on the bank 'guarding their discarded clothes.'
"Come on in, Finn! The water's lovely!" Gabrielle called splashing Xena in the face.
"No, that's all right. I'll just be a stayin here and watch everything!" he called back. He had taken off his ghillies and shirt though.
"Can't you swim?" the blonde asked. She got splashed in return.
"No, not really. I just don't want to go in above me knees."
Ah, come on. We'll teach you how to swim, won't we Xena?"
"No, I'll be a thinking on stayin right here." He pointed at the bank.
Xena rose out of the water and headed straight to the young man. She half shooed and half picked him up and tossed him into the water. Gabrielle was right beside him when he came to the surface sputtering. He thrashed about, thinking he was going to drown.
"Just put your feet on the bottom Finn. It's not so deep here," Xena said, "Just stand up."
He did and turned red. The depth of the water was only shy of his waist. Gabrielle took him by the hand and led him into the deeper water. His eyes grew large with fright when he discovered his feet didn't reach the bottom.
"Don't be afraid. We're here. We won't let anything happen to you."
Xena was on his other side, "Just relax and lay back. Let your feet come up and you will float. Relax, now."
He did and was surprised how easy it was. He was enjoying this. Either Xena or Gabrielle always had a hand on him, or under him to help keep his buoyancy. After about an hour they had convinced him to put his face in the water and open his eyes, lifting it out only when he needed a breath. While Xena was off to catch fish for their next meal, Gabrielle had actually taught Finn how to make a few strokes in swimming and how to tread water when he thought he was in danger. He grew very proud of himself.
Finn was amazed when he caught a glimpse of how Xena "caught" her fish - listening and making a grab for it - and catching it!
A large fish secured, the other two clamored out of the lake. A merry fire was going and the fish had been cleaned, filleted and spitted and was well on its way to being done. The smell was divine and inviting. Gabrielle coated the flesh liberally with her mixture of fresh herbs she had harvested recently on their walk.
Xena had searched out the soap and towels from their belongings and said, "After we eat, Love, how about returning to the lake and get really cleaned up. My hair could use a freshening and I imagine yours could as well." She continued, "Besides I'd like to lose this fish smell and all these scales!" She was covered in them, making her look quite "silvery".
The fish was delectable.
"I forgot how much I love the taste of 'fresh water' fish! The seafish got to be a little too much after a month or so, Xena."
"It'll be very good," Finn exclaimed," and those herbs you put on it Gabrielle made it taste like me mother's."
"Thank you. I seem to have a repartee with herbs and all plants." She grinned knowingly at her soulmate and winked at the young man.
"Tell us about your folks Finn," Gabrielle inquired "and your name." She looked up at him with her big green eyes imploringly. "You already know about me."
"Well, me mother was from Connacht, Ayver be her name. She and me father met at a fair not far from Dubvlin-town. He told me he fell madly in love with her at first look. She had long deep red hair in ringlets past her shoulders, and eyes near the color of yours, Xena. She was, is, loovely to look at, a wonderful woman she is. We lived in a house the Chief gave to me father's father's father, and a grand big house it is too. For he was his bard and traveled with him when he went a-raiding to record for history his Chief's deeds. She bore me father six chilluns. Four boys and two girls. There is only me and me oldest brother left. Some died in a cattle raid, the girls they died in childbirth. Me mum is so very sad now since me father has left too. He died during a sickness three winters ago he couldna breathe. He was a wonderful Bard, I have learned from him, from Brendan MacConnor of the Fair Voice. Me father be the son of the great Connor MacFith, and I be his grandson so me name is O'Connor, in his honor." For further clarification he noted, "O means the grandson, and Mac the son."
"Why are you not called Finn MacBrendan?" Gabrielle noted.
"I honor me grandsire," he answered simply.
When he finished his lineage Finn chose this time to hum a ditty.
"What is this you're humming there?" asked Gabrielle.
"Oh, it'll be just something new I'll be a working on." He turned red, hung his head but looked up at the blonde over his eyebrows.
"Will you sing it for us when you have finished?"
"It's I'll be proud to do so it is about you and the warrior," he sheepishly admitted.
"Oh, now I'm sure we must hear it," Gabrielle grinned.
"Yeah, me too," Xena put in.
"When I have finished, you two will be first to hear the song," he promised.
"So, Finn, the brooch you wear on your shoulder is a family piece that is passed down?" inquired Xena, her brows rising slightly.
"Yes, it was me father's and his father's before him. I'll be a thinking it's older than that though."
Xena eyed the pin again, recognition was still a ways off.
They cleaned up the campsite and their dishes.
"Come on Gabrielle, let's get clean!" She grabbed the blonde's hand and pulled her up and they ran giggling together back to the water. Xena laid the towels down beside their nearly dry shifts, they had taken off on the way to the loch.
"First one to the falls is a rotten egg!" called Gabrielle as she slipped past the warrior and dove in. She swam furiously. But when she reached the waterfall, Xena was already there laughing.
"How do you always do that?"
"Dunno. Guess I'm fast. Come here."
She soaped the blonde's hair and neck and around the ears. Then she held her up by the waist under the flowing water to rinse.
"Ooff!" she said swallowing the running water, "you trying to drown me?"
"Never, my Heart. I just wanted to thoroughly rid you of the soap."
"By holding me under like an unwanted puppy or kitten?"
"Here Gabrielle, you exaggerate," handing her the bar of soap," finish off."
She did and then motioned Xena to turn around. The blonde soaped the long dark hair, the neck, shoulders and face (which she chose to lightly kiss before she applied the soap), and down the long muscular arms and hands, massaging as she went down their length and back up again. Xena was turned to the falls and she rinsed all of the suds off, then took the bar to complete the cleansing of her body.
Gabrielle laughed and headed back to shore.
"I'm pruning. Too much water today."
She clamored out of the water and took one of the cloths and toweled off. Xena followed right behind her partner and popped Gabrielle on her slick inviting bare bottom with her hand.
"Ow!" Gabrielle complained. "That smarted. Is this pick-on-Gabrielle-Day?"
"Couldn't help myself," a smiling Xena purred. She rubbed the sore spot she had incurred, cupping the smooth cheek running her long fingers in the cleavage between the two halves, but trying not to do more.
"Mmmmm, so beautiful. Want me to kiss it and make it better?" hoping the answer would be yes.
"Yes, but not now Xena. Later, - later for sure. You made me wait, it is hard, but now you must. Remember you said we've got to get going. Besides we have an audience."
It was all Finn could do not to watch the two as they frolicked in their nakedness, but he told himself, 'What's so different about them? I've seen people of all ages before without their clothes.' But there was something different about these two. Over a short period of time he had developed feelings for both of them.
With everyone dressed, fire put completely out, satchels sorted and hefted on shoulders, off they set out again to find the Grove. Since it was still early in the afternoon Xena thought they could get quite a bit of traveling in before the day was out.
"What is over this way Finn? Do you know?" Xena asked.
"I'll be a thinkin a way's off'll be a small holding by another river. Dunna really know the name. That is to the west. I'll not be sure but the Grove that ye'll be lookin for is in that direction as well," he offered.
"How far do you think it might be?" Gabrielle queried.
"It's as far as it is, Love. I know you're anxious," quipped Xena.
"I'm not sure. It coulda be two, three, maybe four or more days from here," Finn answered as best he could.
"Told ya!" smiled the warrior. She leaned down and kissed the blonde temple lightly.
They had crossed the mountains surrounding the saucer-like area of meadows in the central part of the island. The friends walked a few more days heading to the west and the place that had been reported to be the Grove they were seeking. Groves were secret places and not everyone wanted to share whatever little bit of information they had on the actual secret sanctuaries.
Several times they came across folks with individual disputes with fierce disagreements, leading almost into battles. But the training of the bard and blonde as arbitrators smoothed everything over and conflicts were averted. Of course having the dark warrior back them up in her armor and sword helped sway decisions towards the matter of peace. They were really silly misunderstandings that the parties involved took offense to, but the trio made these members of the hotheaded warrior nation "see the light" and opt for peaceful solutions. There was a time when Xena would have entered the fray and the outcome would have had possible casualties. Gabrielle was a soothing and calming influence over her now. And her abilities to arbitrate also calmed other tempers that tended to flare and be on a short fuse.
A huge forest loomed ahead of them. They had crested a small hillock to view the ancient growth of trees in the valley and the warrior's eyes widened.
"Does this look familiar Xena?" Gabrielle asked.
"Yes, I think so. I see this in my mind's eye," she closed her eyes tightly concentrating. "This looks like the place Felidmid led me to."
"I believe this is Cathbad's Grove," Finn offered. "I'll be havin' a feeling that this be the sacred place ye seek."
They could see from the top of the hill a slight clearing in the center of the forest. It wasn't discernable but to those who stared carefully saw it. The trio walked down the hill and into the leafy edge of the large trees. Shaded in the cooler depth of the dark green shadows they looked for the unmistakable signs of the nemeton. There in the clearing were the telltale signs that yes, this was the place they searched for. Oak, rowan, hawthorn, yew and ash trees made up the perimeter of the grove. In several of the trees surrounding the clearing they could spot small objects hanging from the branches, which were offerings. A turf altar was in the vacinity of the center of the clearing, not obvious but unmistakable. There was also much mistletoe growing on a central oak and a few standing stones with designs covering them surrounding it.
Xena smiled, turned in a complete circle and sighed, "Yes, this is it. Your birthplace Gabrielle, my Love, my Heart. I don't remember it being quite so dark though ."
Gabrielle's eyes drew dreamy as she looked at everything in the circumference of the woodland clearing. "Yes, yes, yes" she murmured, trying to remember.
This was the place. They finally found the nemeton of the Sacred Grove where Xena had, many decades ago, brought Gabrielle to life and form from the music and flowers. They stood and gazed at the sight. Because so many years had elapsed, the old Druid Cathbad was of course gone to the other side. They understood this, as they themselves had witnessed and experienced this phenomenon many times. Xena had searched in vain for the old harpist, Fedlimid MacDaill, but knew in her heart of hearts that he, too, was gone. Finn had confirmed it, but nevertheless she hunted for him anyway. Always hoping.
The harper excused himself after a look around of the Sacred Grove, promising to return in a day or so. His excuse was to see a relative living closeby. He also wanted to give them their privacy.
"You be careful, ya' hear? Don't go getting into trouble," Xena spoke to Finn.
Gabrielle's eyes misted over as she took his hand.
"We'll see you soon, though?"
"I'll be a hopin' it'll be so," he grinned and turned and left the area.
Gabrielle walked around the circumference looking at everything, burning every tree bush, flower and blade of grass into her memory.
"It looks so familiar, but seems so strange Xena."
"It's been many years, Gabrielle."
"I know, but tell me again what you remember," the blonde pleaded of her companion.
"Well as I remember, I sat under this tree," she motioned to the old knarled fruit tree on the outskirts of the immediate circle of the glade. Xena moved over to this tree and stroked the trunk, remembering. Then sat at the base on top of the roots that were now visible. She closed her eyes to the vision in her memory she was conjuring.
Very quietly several figures emerged from the circle of trees and looked at the couple.
They were dressed in white robes that flowed like water. There was a middle-aged woman, one very young boy and an older man with a beard. All three had long strawberry blonde hair and eyes of virtually no color, or gray if they so desired. One asked the couple "Why are you here?" Another asked, "What do you seek of us?" The third had a knowing look and nodded.
"We were here many years ago," Xena explained. "I was seeking peace and inner comfort, but instead the Druid Cathbad showed me something else much better."
"You were the dark warrior who sang and played the harp here," one stated.
"Aye, that I was," Xena cautiously ventured.
"Then you must be Gabrielle of the Flowers," said another.
"Yes, that's me," the bard smiled at the robed figure's assumption. Innocently with the curious quirk of her being she asked, "What are your names?" She moved closer to Xena and took her hand.
The oldest of the trio simply said "Los"
The woman declared her name as, "Vala"
And the young boy said, "I am called Luvah."
"Why have you come back?" asked Vala.
"To remember and recall," answered Xena.
"Have you found your heart's desire Warrior and Bard?"
Together both Xena and Gabrielle answered "Yes we have. She completes me." They turned and looked at each other and love shown in their eyes and they clasped hands.
"Where is the harp?" one of the figures inquired.
"It is not here, but in a place being tenderly utilized," Gabrielle said.
The harp they had both loved and cared for many years had been placed into safekeeping with a friend that was a musician back home. He had kept great care of the aged instrument and loved it well. They had not worried about it knowing it was played and enjoyed. There was a chance that the beloved instrument would have been lost to the world if the two had carried it everywhere they went. So they found it a secure home. They would retrieve it when they returned.
"Is there anything you ask of us?" one inquired.
In her mind, Xena thought of the one thing that her companion of so many years had desired. She did not voice it, but concentrated on the thought, looking at each of the three figures in front of her.
Each one of the white-clad smiled and nodded slightly at the dark warrior. They had read her mind and she was aware of that.
" There is no happier place for me than in her presence and arms," Xena replied out loud.
"I have no other desire than to be with her forever," Gabrielle answered as well.
The second of the three spoke, "You will be together in each other's hearts for as long as there is a world."
The third ventured, "You two are soulmates destined for each other through all lives."
Los smiled, nodded and raised his hands, "It is done, what you desire."
"Do you follow the stars?" asked Luvah.
"At times we do," Xena replied.
"There are times we see the configurations and try to guess who and why they are there," Gabrielle added.
"The moon, stars and sun will dictate to you. Watch them carefully. They are your map of your destiny," Vala noted.
"Before the sun rises again on midsummer's morn, no matter where you are, you will find yourselves under much stress. Enough to tear the two of you apart. But think on what you have and do not let it be so. It will be worthwhile. Your love will endure," stated Los.
The figures smiled at the duo and said, "Enjoy your stay here in the Grove." Then they melted back into the trees that had concealed them earlier.
Gabrielle returned to her questioning of her partner, her eyes bright and starry-lit.
"Please tell me all you can remember Xena."
The warrior had a scowl on her forehead like she was trying to remember or understand something, but that smoothed into a peaceful look of wonderment, "I played and I sang. But before I did that this ancient came and said, 'Play for yourself and you will be fulfilled.'"
"What were the songs you sang Xena?" Gabrielle asked.
"Oh you know, songs about my childhood, about home and the way I was back then. The fighting and pillaging that I did, the 'dark' side that I was. Then I sang for what my heart desired - you."
"Will you sing them for me my love? You know I adore your voice."
"Yes, sometime I will. Maybe when we return home and I have the harp in my hands again."
Gabrielle had dropped to in front of the warrior and leaned foreword on Xena's knees. She reached up and stole a kiss from the full lips.
"Tell me, then what happened?"
"My eyes were closed Gabrielle but I could feel the air getting heavier but swirling around and around me. The smell of flowers was intoxicating. When I opened my eyes a little I saw millions and millions of flowers of every color circling around. Then there was YOU!"
She took a breath and closed her eyes remembering.
"A beautiful red blonde-haired girl stood in front of me with gorgeous large green eyes."
"I remember now, Xena," the blonde smiled with her own memories.
"You were.. ARE wonderful Gabrielle."
"You're just prejudiced Xena," Gabrielle blushed.
"No, it's true! You saved me then, you save me now!" Xena exalted.
"But Xena, you are the one who saved me saves ME now and again and again!"
"Well I guess we can have a Mutual Admiration Society all to ourselves now, can't we?" giggling quietly.
She stood and enfolded the blonde in her arms, giving her a deep kiss. She inhaled deeply the intoxicating floral scent that was Gabrielle. When the bard opened her mouth to the inquiring tongue of her partner and they initially touched tips of tongues, sparks flew like an electrical charge through their entire bodies. It rose from the ground through their feet and completed the circuit between them, connecting them with the land. Something was filling each of them with the magic of Eire. They continued the kiss, reaching deep inside of the other for confirmation of their love. Each was filled with the essence of their soulmate. Slowly they lowered themselves to the moss-covered ground, the kiss enduring. The need for touching, knowing, remembering and experiencing took over. Quickly they removed each other's clothes. Their desires were great. Arms and legs entwined as they resumed the kiss. Blossoms floated to the ground from above to blanket their bodies. Xena broke the kiss first and headed to the sweet-smelling neck. She found the spot she so loved and tongued and sucked the area. Gabrielle arched her back in response to that and the hands that had found their way to her breasts. She was on fire. She grasped at Xena's shoulders, her nails leaving marks on the warrior's broad back. The electricity that exploded initially in their kiss settled in her groin and her urges demanded more. Xena complied by moving her sweat-drenched body down the length of her beloved's. Gabrielle opened her legs to accommodate Xena's body. The taller woman eased into the familiar place kissing and nipping all down the blonde's beautiful figure. The bard thrust her hands in Xena's dark mane and forced her ever downward. A dip of the tongue into the honeyed navel and the warrior continued on towards her destination. Small jolts of lightning emanated from Gabrielle's extremities and an aura surrounded them both. The groans and sighs from the bard stopped all life within the woods to listen knowingly.
"Now Xena! Now!"
Neither party could wait any longer. Xena opened the lips of her lover's sex that throbbed expectantly, inhaled deeply of the heady scent and dove into the bard's center. She entered with her tongue and thrust in and out, wrapping her arms around the blonde's hips. Gabrielle squeezed her eyes tight and arched her body as best she could with the weight holding her down. She lifted her hips to Xena's face, her legs draped over Xena's shoulders, her legs and heels pressing into the warrior's back. The brunette pushed in and out, filling her completely. Xena's arms slipped under the bard's body to lift and support her. Finally the warrior put her hand on the expectant clitoris and rubbed with her thumb in cadence. Gabrielle's center flamed with an electrical jolt that moved upward into her groin then expanding through her whole body. A tingle started at the ends of her toes and moved upwards to her shoulders and down her arms. Xena's need was so great that she slipped one of her own hands down and entered herself, moving in unison with her loving of Gabrielle. After nine strokes (the magical number) she withdrew her hand from herself, glancing to make sure it was covered in her creamy juices and entered the bard quickly with three fingers, continuing the rhythm. Her mouth latched onto the welcoming clitoris and she sucked feverently. Gabrielle was thrashing about and was difficult to hold. Tears were flooding her eyes.
The world exploded and the ground rocked. Somewhere in the background there was harp music.
Gabrielle cried "Xeeenaaaaaa!" and collapsed, crying softly. Her thighs trembled. Xena nuzzled into the soft curls kissing the bard's mound and then the warrior withdrew her hand, licking each of her fingers with a satisfied groan, then crawled up the bard's body kissing tenderly every inch of flesh. She paid close attention to the light brown mole under the bard's right breast on the ribcage, tonguing it gently. She reached the breasts and gave them much affection, kissing, suckling and biting the nipple gently with her teeth, while kneading its companion. She switched and repeated the process. The bard was sniffling and smiling.
"I didn't hurt you, did I?"
"No. That was wonderful Xena! I we've never experienced this feeling so deep and spiritual before I don't understand. I love you so much Xena. You complete me."
"And I love you with all that I am, Gabrielle. You're everything to me."
The warrior had moved to take the bard completely in her arms and kissed first her forehead, then both eyes, nose, cheeks, chin and around the mouth on both sides before claiming the blonde's mouth for her own. All the while the blonde's mouth kissed and devoured any part of the warrior she could touch. Their eventual kiss resembled the one they had earlier, with as much electricity as the first. Tongues danced around each other for dominance, each tasting the companion's mouth completely in turn. When they broke apart unwillingly, Xena had a strange look on her face. Her eyes were opened large saucer-like, her brows raised into her hairline, but there was a grin on her face.
"What's wrong love?"
The warrior opened her mouth and it was filled with blossoms. She smiled, chewed several times and swallowed. That movement made her climax as largely as Gabrielle just had.
"Ooooh Gabrielle!" she groaned.
When she could speak she said, "Nothing's wrong, my sweet Bard. I'm only filled with you! My heart is about to burst."
"I feel strangely different now too Xena. Something has happened. I don't know what or how but I feel filled as well. My heart is swelling with your love and love for you."
They fell back on the soft mat of moss completely exhausted, the bard taking her usual place in Xena's arms, head on her breast under the warrior's chin. Xena smiled to herself thinking and hoping that her partner's secret wish had finally been answered. But if the world as they knew it ended today, all would be well. Because she had wrapped in her arms the life-force of her being.
"I feel as if your breath surrounds me, Xena. I feel as if I'm wrapped in it, the way a butterfly is wrapped in a cocoon. I feel as if my arms, my breasts, my thighs - all of me is wrapped in fine threads of love. Your love."
"All for you Gabrielle, only for you," the warrior murmured in the shell-like ear.
Totally exhausted, they then fell into a contented sleep to the soft strains of the ethereal music wafting though the air. A voice spoke in the dense atmosphere, "It is done."
The soulmates slept for some time, a deep dreamless, peaceful sleep. Xena woke suddenly in the late night to pull one of their cloaks over their entwined bodies to help ward off the dewy chill of a fog that had formed. When they awoke, a day had gone by and it was middle morning. The fog has dissipated. Xena looked down at her love. She was emanating a glow from not only her face but also her body. The warrior couldn't help but admit how beautiful the bard was. But then she had known that for as long as she'd known her. She cupped the gorgeous face as their eyes met. Gabrielle's stomach chose that point to make itself known that it was once again craving.
"Hmmm, food for you huh?" Xena teased with a chuckle.
"I'm really hungry Xena."
"Me too. Come on Gabrielle, let's go and find all of the other places we experienced here on this island. I'm sure I can rustle up something for you for breakfast as well."
'Maybe you're eating for two now,' she thought to herself hopefully, 'altho' who could tell?'
Gabrielle thought to herself, 'My, Xena seems to be glowing this day.' But she said nothing aloud. She did affectionately say, "You are absolutely beautiful."
They rose and stretched, putting every vertebrae back into place that had been knocked around by their exertions the evening before. Quickly they dressed and looked around.
The entire wooded area was covered in blossoms. In trees, on bushes and from the ground, all flowers had sprung to life. There was a cacophony of color. The air glistened with sparkles of light as blossoms fell from the trees like snow over them.
They trudged off into the gloaming looking for other places that were in their past. Familiar in their minds but in reality so changed. Gabrielle looked at every flower with a question in her eyes but grateful for every one of the blooming beauties. She turned and walked backwards for a while taking in the scene they had just left, then stopped, tears coursing down her face.
Xena had noticed that her companion was not at her side and she paused looking over her shoulder. She turned around and walked back to the beautiful bard.
'Maybe her flower-cousins have witnessed two miracles', she thought.
She stepped behind the blonde and slowly took her love in her arms and said, "Don't ever forget this place, Gabrielle." Looking back with her, "Remember it, the colors, the scents, everything always."
"I will, Xena. Forever. Don't ever leave me promise?"
"I promise Gabrielle. I'll never leave you. You are my reason for living."
"As you are mine. I don't know how I could continue without you."
"I love you my Bard," kissing the tears away from the beautiful face.
"As I love you, my Warrior."
They held each other in an embrace for awhile. There was no one else on this earth but them. The peace they seek is in each other.
"For many, many years we have stood like this, wrapped in each others' arms. I look up into your eyes and see the affection and warmth in the depth of you."
"And I look into your beautiful green eyes and see the love and adoration that is the embodiment of you", Xena continued," may we always be as happy as this."
Hand in hand they walked by one of the standing circles in an open field. They stopped and laid their hands on each of the stones, smiled at each other, then walked on.
A distance behind them a lone figure walked with a large bundle on his back. He had a smile of knowledge on his face, which actually glowed. He spoke as if he had a companion by his side.
"Aye, we did it great-granddad!"
"That we did me son! The circle has been completed."
"Do you think they'll wait for me?"
"Sing out to them son, they'll wait."
"Do you want to speak with them Fedlimid, me grandsire?"
"They'll be a knowin I am here."
At that Finn O'Connor gave voice to the two soulmates ahead of him."
"Xena! Gabrielle! Wait for me! I'll be a comin' to take up the travelin' wit' ye agin!"
Bard and Warrior stopped and turned, looked in the distance at the figure and waved him on to join them.
To be continued in the sequel, The Journey Home'*
* subject to change
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